Responding to the question, the prominent Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi states:
The principle in Shari`ah is that a woman is not to travel by herself; rather, it is obligatory upon her to have as her companion her husband or a mahram. This ruling is founded on what was reported by Al-Bukhari and others from Ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) that Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “A woman is not to travel except with a mahram, and a man is not to enter upon her except if she has a mahram.”
And also on the authority of Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is quoted to have said: “It is not permissible for a woman who believes in Allah and the Last Day to travel a distance of one day and one night without a mahram with her.” Abu Sa`id narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “A woman is not to travel a distance of two days without her husband or mahram with her.”
And Ibn `Umar narrated that: “She is not to travel for three nights, except if she has a mahram.” Apparently the differences in narrations are because of the different questioners and the questions posed. Abu Hanifah preferred the last hadith of Ibn `Umar and was of the opinion that a mahram is not needed except in travels in which prayers are shortened (also reported by Ahmad). These hadiths include all types of travel, whether or not it is necessary, like visiting, trading, seeking knowledge, or anything else.
The basis for this ruling is not an evil assumption about the woman and her manners, as some people unreasonably think, but it is to take care of her reputation and dignity. It is to protect her from the desires of those who have diseased hearts, from the assault of a rapist or a thief. And this is even more so in places that the traveller must pass through, like deadly deserts, in a time when there is no sense of security, and where the places are unpopulated.
But what is the ruling on a woman, who does not find a mahram to accompany her in a legitimate travel, whether obligatory, preferred or permitted? And there is within her reach a group of protective men, or trustworthy faithful women, and the roads are safe? The jurists have researched this topic whenever they discussed the obligation of Hajj upon women, and they kept in mind the Prophet’s injunction prohibiting a woman from traveling without a mahram. Their thoughtful opinions include the following:
1. Among them are those who hold on to what is apparent from the mentioned hadiths, they prohibit traveling without a mahram, even for the obligation of Hajj. And there is no exception to this rule.
2. There are those who make an exception for older women who have passed the age of being subject to temptation, as has been transmitted from Al-Qadi ibn Al-Walid Al-Yaji, from the Maliki Juristic school. It is especially for women in general if we look at the meaning as was said by Ibn Daqiq Al-`Eid.
3. Some of them make the exception that as long as the woman is with trustworthy and faithful women, then the travel is permissible. Furthermore, some conclude that it is enough for just one free trustworthy and faithful Muslim woman.
4. And some concluded that the roadway must be safe. This is the opinion that was chosen by Shaykh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah. He mentioned that Ibn Muflih in Al-Faru` said: “Every woman can perform Hajj without a mahram as long as she will be safe.” And he said: “This is directed towards every travel in obedience… Al-Karabisi transmitted this from Ash-Shafi`i pertaining to the supererogatory Hajj. And some of his companions also said this about supererogatory Hajj and about every travel that is not obligatory, like visiting and trading.”
Al-Artham transmitted from Imam Ahmad: “A mahram is not a condition in the obligatory Hajj.” His justification for this is his saying: “Because she goes out with women, and with all those whom she is safe with.” Ibn Sirin even said: “With a Muslim it is okay.” Al-Awzai said: “With a just people.” Malik said: “With a group of women.” Ash-Shafi`i said: “With a trustworthy faithful Muslim woman.” And his companions said: “By herself if there is safety.”
Al-Hafidh Ibn Hajar said: “What is well-known with the Shafi`is is that it is conditional that there be a husband, mahram, or trustworthy faithful women.” And in another saying: “It is enough for just one trustworthy faithful woman.” In a saying transmitted by Al-Karabisi, authenticated in Al-Muhadhab, is that she can travel by herself if the roads are safe. If this is what was said about traveling for Hajj and `Umrah, then this ruling should be uniform concerning all types of travel, as some scholars have agreed.
The purpose here is to safeguard the woman and protect her, which is fulfilled by knowing that the roadway is safe and that trustworthy faithful men and women are present.
The proof of the permissibility of a woman traveling without a mahram is incumbent upon there being security and the presence of trustworthy faithful people. What was reported by Al-Bukhari is that during the final Hajj of `Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him), he gave permission to the wives of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) to perform Hajj. So he sent with them `Uthman ibn `Affan and `Abdur-Rahman. This act is considered to be a consensus, for all of them, `Umar, `Uthman, `Abdur-Rahman Ibn `Awf and the wives of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) agreed to it, without any objection.
Second is what was reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim from the hadith of `Ada Ibn Hatim that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) told him about the future of Islam and how its light will be spread throughout the earth. Among what he mentioned is: “The day is near when a young woman will travel from Al-Hira (a city in Iraq), going to the Sacred House with no husband accompanying her. She will fear none but Allah.” This information does not only prove that this will happen, but proves its permissibility, because it was mentioned in a phrase praising the spread of Islam along with its sense of security.
Here I will state two additionally important precepts:
The first is that the basis of rulings on acts of dealings is to focus on their meanings and purposes. This is the opposite of rulings on acts of worship, whose main focus is on showing full compliance to Allah’s order, before focusing on their meanings and purposes, as was firmly established by Imam Ash-Shatibi, who clarified this and verified it with proofs.
The second is that prohibited things are not permitted except if there is a dire need. And things that are prohibited so that they can be an obstruction to evil are permitted during times of need. And there is no doubt that the prohibition of a woman traveling without a mahram stems on the necessity of blocking channels to evil.
It is incumbent upon us to look at traveling in our time. It is not like how traveling was in the past. It is no more filled with the dangers of the arid deserts, or awe of being encountered with thieves, highway robbers, etc. Now traveling is by various modern means of transportation that usually gather large amounts of people at a time, like ships, airplanes, buses, or cars that travel in caravans. Thus, this provides plenty of confidence and reliability, removing feelings of fear for the woman, because she will not be by herself in any place.
Thus, in the light of the above, I see no objection to woman performing Hajj within such safe environment, which provides all the necessary security and contentment.